Managing the elements: snow, ice and water

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Added: Wed, 04/10/2019 - 1:31pm
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Darlene Pashak

MRC PONTIAC & PONTIAC – News of salt shortages and price increases (nearly 40% compared to the usual 5% per year) reported in nearby Renfrew County prompted The Journal to contact local municipalities regarding the impact of this winter on snow removal
budgets as well as preparation for spring flooding.
All seven municipalities that responded have not experienced price increases or salt shortages, and despite the snowfall, all indicated it was manageable and that road crews did an excellent job.
Most of L’Isle-aux-Allumettes' winter road work is contracted out, while public works takes care of the villages and municipal properties. Their $340,000 budget is nearly spent, with a bit remaining to cover late spring snowfalls if needed. This year’s expenses are higher than previous years due to a higher tender spanning 2018-2021. Mayor Winston Sunstrum said the municipality avoided the increased price of salt; “We ordered enough for a long winter before the price went up, so it hasn’t affected our budget.”
A contractor does the majority of snowplowing in Otter Lake, while staff
manages the roads in town, said Director General (DG) Andrea Lafleur. “They are
all on winter hours so the additional snow this year hasn't increased costs other than perhaps extra fuel.”
“The contractors were the most affected in our community,” said Joanne Labadie, mayor of the Municipality of Pontiac, noting the harsh winter may influence bids when contracts go back to tender. Bids are calculated based on costs and snowfall in the previous contract term, as well as forecasts, and the costs of raw materials like salt and abrasives.
A contractor weighs in
A spokesperson from Nugent Construction in the Municipality of Pontiac said there have been consequences to the “brutal winter”. Contracts are negotiated for three or four year terms and there is no way to recoup losses or increase profits
mid-contract, except for a compensation “perk” from the MTQ to offset fuel costs if the price of gas skyrockets. Luckily, the price of salt was increased in early fall, so there were no surprises.
The spokesperson explained the hardest hit contractors will be those who were at the end of a contract and private operators who have to pay fees if there is more than a certain amount of snow. Rarely, said the spokesperson, has there been a winter with under 200 cm of snow, dating back to weather records from 1938. In fact, analyzing snowfall over ten-year periods, this year is not particularly exceptional. However, Nugent warned impacts will be more significant if increased snowfall is experienced a number of years in a row.
It's hard to compare costs
to previous years, given the many changes to snow removal contracting. Contracts used to start later in November and end earlier in March; now they extend until mid-April. About fifty years ago, it was sufficient to clear highways once it stopped snowing, but now they're cleared after 1-2 cm. Roads must be nearly clean, which means for Nugent at least, almost daily work.
Preparing for spring flooding
The main concern for the Alleyn-et-Cawood is the Kazabazua River. Municipal workers have been keeping culverts open, regularly checking beaver dams,
monitoring water levels and inspecting structures for signs of damage.
Thorne is presently working on a civil security plan
for major disasters, including floods.
In the Municipality of Pontiac, public works has been clearing ice from the roads and drains. “Work is ongoing to clear high-risk culverts and ditches to mitigate the
risk of snow melt flooding or road damage,” commented Labadie. Staff are monitoring the levels of the Ottawa River and its reservoirs and
tributaries. The municipality has been working with provincial partners, namely the Ministry of Public Security, to assist with operational planning should a significant event occur. 
Sunstrum indicated that public works and the Pontiac Ouest Fire Service have been meeting, planning and preparing for potential floods; sand bags are in stock, monitoring of vulnerable roads is ongoing, and a communication plan
is in place for vulnerable residents and cottages. Waltham already has an emergency plan in place as well as sandbags, sand and emergency personnel ready to respond. Pamphlets have been delivered to high risk flood areas.
Contractors are also responsible for flood prevention tasks, said Nugent, such as managing water crossing the road, pushing snowbanks back, culvert and ditch clearing for both MTQ and municipal contracts.
An MRC Pontiac-wide civil protection meeting focused on flood prevention was recently held. On March 19, the Ottawa River Regulation and Planning Board stated the following: “All major reservoirs in the Ottawa River basin continue to be emptied in preparation for freshet. Water levels and flows are expected to remain stable or decrease slightly with forecast temperatures in the basin fluctuating around the freezing point this week.”
Reducing flood risks
The Municipality of Pontiac reminds homeowners to be proactive by verifying their sump pump is in good working order, having a replacement on hand if you are located in a high-risk area, and removing snow build up from around your home’s foundation to prevent basement flooding.
The Ministry of Public Security's website provides advice for home and cottage owners in the event of flooding, with tips on what to do before, during and after. Take a proactive stance to lower risks by verifying if your dwelling
is located in a flood-prone area. If so, prepare a family emergency plan and emergency kit, install an anti-backflow device (check valve) to prevent wastewater from overflowing municipal sewers and entering your basement, and review your home insurance to ensure flooding is included.